Learning & Leading: Transitioning from a conundrum to a continuum

by Karim Tharani,
Library Systems & Information Technology, University of Saskatchewan

At the University of the Saskatchewan Library, we are very fortunate to have a formal and externally-facilitated leadership training program specifically designed for the library employees known as the Library Leadership Development Program or LLDP. The LLDP program has seen five cohorts and has been instrumental in imbuing the leadership without title philosophy and fostering personal leadership in employees to become agents of positive change at the library. Now that many of the employees have gone through the LLDP training, the library continues to seek creative ways of sustaining this leadership among its employees. It was in this context that a few weeks back I was invited by our HR director to participate in an informal brainstorming session to generate ideas on how to sustain leadership.

As I started reflecting on this matter, I quickly realized the challenge we were faced with! I wondered if we were trying to sustain the learning about leadership or the practice of leadership at the library. In my mind there was a huge difference between the two and not surprisingly this challenge initially formed as a conundrum in my mind pitting learning about leadership against practicing leadership. While I am at it, let me also say a thing or two about my experience with conundrums. With my rigorous computer science training as an undergrad, I am conditioned to view conundrums as binary phenomena. Life used to be so clear and simple in the binary world of computer science but as I am getting more and more into the social sciences and humanities, I am learning every day how unique, complex, diverse, and adaptable humans are when faced with complex issues! Even as an individual I am full of complexities and conundrums and gone are the days when issues used to be binary for me. Whosoever believes that transitioning from sciences to humanities is an easy proposition, must not forget that the damage caused by algorithmic thinking is not undone easily :). Not that I regret the ongoing transition, but I do find myself reminiscing sometimes. Now the real life unravels for me in the fuzzy area between 0 and 1 or yes and no; and I am almost convinced that most conundrums are in fact portals to continuums of realities and new possibilities…and that’s a good thing!

Coming back to the learning and leading conundrum at hand, as I switched between staring at the ceiling and my monitor while my frantic fingers did all the thinking for me on the keyboard in front of me, I came across an explanation in the form of an article by Brown and Posner titled: Exploring the Relationship Between Learning and Leadership. In this article the authors point out that:

“Leadership development is a learning process. Leadership development programs and approaches need to reach leaders at a personal and emotional level, triggering critical self-reflection, and providing support for meaning making including creating learning and leadership mindsets, and for experimentation. Transformational learning theory can be used to assess, strengthen, and create leadership development programs that develop transformational leaders.

“Research over these past two decades underscores that the majority of leadership skills are learned from naturally occurring experiences in the work place. Being able to access and apply principles of adult learning and foster transformational learning would help aspiring leaders, those wanting to strengthen their leadership, and those concerned with the development of leadership, to accelerate and leverage leadership learning. Importantly, creating a culture of leadership and learning is the ultimate act of leadership development.”

This was my aha moment as I realized that practicing leadership goes hand in hand with learning about leadership and not as a discrete passage from one stage to the next. Thus the concept of transformational learning came to my rescue and transformed this apparent conundrum in my mind into a continuum of new possibilities. Oh, and in case you are wondering, the brainstorming session went very well and everyone lived happily ever after :).

Brown, L. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2001). Exploring the relationship between learning and leadership. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 22(6), 274-280.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.